This assignment is about taking a considered approach to creating a photograph of a person. You’ll need to take care over your choice of model, their clothes, setting, environmental objects and background.
You’ll need a small torch for this assignment. Tape a funnel of black paper over the end of it to act as a ‘snoot’. Shoot at night and make your space as dark as possible; you’re going to use the torch to ‘paint’ light into the scene with your shutter continuously open for each exposure. Use the beam from the torch like a brush over the model’s face and body and over the details in the background that you want to be in the photo. Whatever you illuminate will be in the photo, the rest will be dark.
As with all the projects or assignments I take the brief, circle some words, see what strikes me from that. The problem with this of course is that my natural ability to be sometimes too literal and often too cheesy can mean I go straight from circled word to thought stream in not enough steps, but they do give me somewhere to start. The points of interest apart from ‘painting with light’, were ‘choice of model’; ‘clothes’; ‘setting or background’; ‘environmental objects’. These were the key words for me.
I then worked through my notepads – I always have a notepad with me – wrote lists, potentials, sketched diagrams, moved from word to word and through images till I was circling in on potentially interesting experiments. I have in the past done some ‘light paintings’ where I have basically bought some various coloured lights, set the camera on a long exposure and wiggled my arms about. Really that was about patterns, interesting light sources etc – so I didn’t want to do this again and it wasn’t really pertinent anyway.
I was aware that with it being Summer now, I would be best working inside, secluded in darkened rooms – so as to have the longest working times. I wanted to keep it associated with painting – its what i studied, what I like, where I take much of my structural and artistic sensibilities – plus it says painting with lights – you see, quite literal. This led to portrait painting, or figures in painting – well it had to be based on the figure – so with my idea that I wanted it to be based around painting cause thats my interest, then maybe these images should contain me? Could I create painterly self-portraits with light? This led to the chiaroscuro figurative paintings of Joseph Wright and Caravaggio. So like these paintings I wanted the images to be contrived, not natural – it might look natural (actually it probably won’t), but of course it is posed. Everything about it is false, the set-up, the light – try and have some fun with it.
These paintings would be a starting point – could I create my take, my flippant, domestic, pop-cultured take on academic and religious chiaroscuro figurative paintings? By constructing images based around certain paintings I could control the situation, the environment would be restricted etc, allowing me to experiment essentially through trial and error with the light and settings. Plus of course it gives me a chance to play and mess around.
Further reading is required on this, and at present I have been reading up on Caravaggio paintings naturally enough – primarily Caravaggio: A Life (1999) by Helen Langdon, which I have read before and had in the house. I need to chose which images I would use. I have a couple in mind already that may work. Obvious lessons could be learnt from Cindy Sherman’s recreations of Baroque paintings and her depiction of Caravaggio’s Sick Bacchus – so I had better not use that one – but I will be looking at her work anyway.
Caravaggio: A Life Paperback; Langdon, Helen; Pimlico (1999)